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Stuntman aims to balance on Burj Khalifa

A former circus performer plans to do a death-defying handstand on top of the Burj Khalifa.
If allowed, Eskil Ronningsbakken would become the second daredevil to carry out a life-threatening stunt on Burj Khalifa. Above, he does a balancing act on the Great Wall of China. Courtesy of Eskil Ronningsbakken
If allowed, Eskil Ronningsbakken would become the second daredevil to carry out a life-threatening stunt on Burj Khalifa. Above, he does a balancing act on the Great Wall of China. Courtesy of Eskil Ronningsbakken

DUBAI // In the 23 months since it opened, the world's tallest building has been a magnet for base jumpers and free climbers. Now, an extreme balancing artist wants to perform a death-defying handstand on its summit.

Eskil Ronningsbakken, a former circus performer from Norway, has asked the owners of the Burj Khalifa for permission to perform the stunt, which he hopes to be "contrary to all physical laws".

He would set up a ladder, secured with rigging, at the spire of the Burj Khalifa, then balance on one hand at the top of it, his body pointing out at an angle away from the building.

"Why would I not want to do it?" he said. "This is how I live. This kind of performance is as natural to me as meeting in court is for a lawyer."

If he gets the go-ahead, he would become the second daredevil to carry out a life-threatening stunt on the building.

Earlier this year, France's self-proclaimed "Spiderman", Alain Robert, climbed the height of the tower. He was granted permission on condition - grudgingly accepted - that he used safety harnesses.

Ronningsbakken is no more willing, but said he too would use a harness if he had to. "If use of safety is the only way to get the necessary permissions, then I will be open to discuss it," he said. "But I don't like the thought of it.

"People around the world commit mistakes and end up in accidents every day, even they have a safety system, a harness or a life vest. That's mainly because they rely too much on external equipment, instead of using the natural tools they were born with."

Robert himself slipped and fell briefly on his way up the 828metre building, a fact he later attributed to the psychological difference between climbing with a harness rather than without.

Traks, a company that trains the abseiling window cleaners on the Burj Khalifa, helped set up the rigging for Robert's ascent.

The company founder, James Falchetto, said the stunt was possible, in theory. "It's pretty windy up there, though," he said.

Ronningsbakken is unconcerned about the wind, though, having spent part of his career learning to adjust to wind pressure. "I always have to work with the wind, and never try to force it to be the way I want it," he said. "I also learned how to read the intervals of different winds, the directions and strength without using modern instruments."

A spokesman for Emaar was unavailable for comment. However, Ronningsbakken said he had previously applied for permission, soon after the launch, and been rejected.

He hopes Robert's climb had opened the company to other artists. "I just hope they will loosen the bag and shake out some positive energy my way," he said.

Ronningsbakken was inspired at the age of five by the visit of an Indian yogi to his village in the rural wilds of Norway. As soon as he was old enough, he joined the circus and later became a more serious balancing artist.

Although he comes close to death on a daily basis through his art, he rejects any suggestion that he has a death wish. "No one who wants to commit suicide behaves like us," he said. "I would rather like to describe my art as living 100 per cent in the moment."

 

mcroucher@thenational.ae

Updated: December 4, 2011 04:00 AM

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